Sunday, December 11, 2011

Mona Lisa in Grease

There is an artist on YouTube that used the natural grease from hamburgers to recreate the portrait of the Mona Lisa. It's fascinating, inspiring, & disgusting all at once.

View the video

Public Displays of Filming

For my "Art in Public Spaces" project in my Doing Democracy class, my group and I filmed people's reactions to two very simple questions: "Where are you from?" and "Where are you going?" We did all the filming in two separate elevators: one in the Sharp Building at SAIC and one in Macy's.

The project as a whole went rather smoothly, with active participation from the public and no forced ejections by security guards. The biggest surprise for me, however, came with how willing people at Macy's were willing to talk about themselves. At SAIC, there seemed a greater level of inhibition, or just an overall desire to answer the two questions and be done with it. People at Macy's, shoppers and employees alike, wanted to know why we were doing this project and wanted to interact. It was kind of the opposite of what I expected. 

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

60 Year Old Debt

Interesting story about a man who returned money he stole from Sears 60 years ago.

View the article

Lincoln Park Zoo Lights

Once again, in our search for "no money fun," my family & I went to the Zoo Lights Festival at Lincoln Park. As to be expected, there were a bunch of lights, with some arrangements set to classical music. But there was also an ice sculptor and the chance to see numerous sleeping wild animals.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

iMovie Maker

I have always loved movies--going to the movie theater, visiting the now antiquated video store. There was a time when I wanted to make movies, but the complexity involved was always a deterrent. Film making requires a camera, lighting, sound, a script, actors, costumes, makeup, props, interior/exterior environments. By comparison, painting was quite simple--the artist paints the surface with a brush. There's a direct, one-on-one connection the painter has with their artwork that becomes somewhat removed in the film making process.

That's not to say that I've abandoned this early fascination with movie making. Thanks to digital cameras and Apple editing software, I can live out--on a small scale--this lingering desire to be a director. I've used iMovie to edit footage I've shot to advertise for my artwork and website. As a matter of fact, I'll have used iMovie for each project in the three classes I'm taking at SAIC. It's funny how you can do what you've always wanted and get a master's degree in the process. 

John Waters: This Filthy World

(my response to a lecture given by a social theorist)

            Inspired by the challenges to gender ideology that fill Kate Bornstein and S. Bear Bergman’s Gender Outlaws, I decided to watch a lecture by openly gay filmmaker and icon of bad taste, John Waters. Much like the narratives in Gender Outlaws, Waters subverts societal conventions of sexuality, as he offers a no holds barred account of homosexual lifestyle and fetishistic behavior. What I appreciated the most about this lecture was Waters’ humor, which could be occasionally self-deprecating. He wasn’t preaching or making impassioned arguments for alternative lifestyles; he was just offering up his view on the sensational, often vulgar, aspects of our society. He seemed to revel in bad behavior, encouraging filmmakers, artists, and even children to go out and find some trouble. It could be anything from starting a film society devoted to shocking acts or knocking over a row of bikes. You don’t necessarily need to make a statement; you just want people to react.
The lecture opens with John Waters emerging from a confessional booth to a stage littered with trash and open garbage cans. He seemed to have a very open relationship with the audience, wherein he could share any story or idea without fear of condemnation. Throughout the lecture, Waters parallels his societal observations with his devotion to film, first as an audience member, then as an independent filmmaker.
            As a young man growing up in Baltimore, Maryland in the 1950s, John Waters was influenced by gimmicky, low budget filmmakers like William Castle. These directors would use shock tactics to lure in audiences. Props would often be incorporated into film screenings as well as opportunities for audience participation. Waters also discusses dirty, underground filmmaking—an art form that anybody with a camera can take part in and exploit. These “instant movies,” as Waters refers to them, dealt with a current event and could be put into theaters the same day they were filmed. Due to the controversial and shocking subject matter, however, these film screenings were occasionally cut short by police raids. The films of Andy Warhol are also included in Waters’ description of underground filmmaking, as Warhol was one of the first artists to put homosexuality and drugs on the screen. “At last,” Waters states.
            He then opens up about his own career as a filmmaker; beginning with his early, independent films with drag queen and long time companion, Divine. Waters speaks of Pink Flamingos as a film about testing limits, subjected to repeated problems with censorship. I suppose that would be expected of any film that features a singing anus and a man in drag eating dog feces. In Desperate Living, Waters took a fairytale approach to telling a story of lesbian anguish. He even used real homeless people as extras in the process. Waters then transitions to what he deems his “above ground” movie making, beginning with Polyester. For this film, he incorporated the gimmickry of William Castle with an interactive device called Odorama. Odorama has the audience members scratch and sniff a smell at a particular time, everything from grass to feces. Crybaby, along with Johnny Depp, featured then pornographic star, Tracy Lords. It focuses on a theme Waters often applies to his life and his work: juvenile delinquency. According to Waters, it is a form of rebellion that “needs to be brought back.” Pecker, a movie the Japanese press described as “a Disney film for perverts,” deals with the oddity of fame in the art world. I found it quite interesting the way Waters compared the success of a visual artist with the success of filmmaker. In his view, it is better to be an artist because if everybody loves your work, then it’s a failure. A filmmaker, however, has to receive approval from several people to even get their work released. Such was the case with Waters’ latest film, A Dirty Shame. This is a film about sex addicts and incorporates any number of fetishes that Waters has read about, witnessed, or created especially for the story. Upon its release, it was attacked by the Catholic Church and given an NC-17 rating by the industry of motion pictures. According to the ratings board, no amount of editing could save this film from such limited viewership.
            The lecture is brought to a rather satisfying close as Waters delves into his unique relationship with society. Much like the work of the numerous social theorists we have read this semester, Waters is an observer. More to the point, he is an observer of antisocial behavior, or those people who simply do not fit into everyday society. He regularly attends trials, with many of the defendants accused of heinous acts. He investigates aspects of gay subculture such as adult babies—which Waters himself decries—and heavy-set, hairy gay men who refer to themselves as “bears” (bears who seek a smaller companion, or cub). In a society where all of these things are being documented, being gay, Waters declares, is simply not enough. Many students today are openly homosexual, but only in the more affluent schools. Waters states that humor needs to be used as a form of terrorism amongst the gay community. This struck me as an especially poignant comment as Waters grew up in a conservative, Catholic environment where sexual addiction and fetishes were almost never discussed. Forget about the gay subculture, being gay wasn’t even considered a culture, but rather a disease. Yet even as politically correct and accepting as our society tries to be of alternative lifestyles, there are still people like John Waters who want to push the limits even further. He would probably be the first to admit that these limits go well beyond the lines of good taste, but like with any social theory or piece of artwork, it is important to incite questions and controversy.     

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Marilyn Monroe Paintball

Here's a great YouTube video I used to show my middle school students during our project on portraits. A group of artists recreate Andy Warhol's portrait of Marilyn Monroe entirely out of paint balls.

Click here to view the video.

Chicago Thanksgiving Parade

My family & I were planning on attending the Thanksgiving Day parade on State Street. As someone new to Chicago, are there any inside tips anyone can recommend to us? (Other than getting there early & dressing warmly.)

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Hemingway is a Downer

I was introduced to Ernest Hemingway's short stories in an undergrad creative writing course. If you take any contemporary writing or literature class, Hemingway is inescapable. I was instantly drawn to the elemental story telling, how you could express so much about a character or event with such simple sentences. When I transitioned into his novels, I basically stopped with the first text I read. It was A Farewell to Arms, which had the Hemingway style I connected with, but the content--particularly the ending--was so bleak and depressing that I haven't read anything by him since.

Is it possible to separate style from content? If you love one, but hate the other, can you ever appreciate the work as whole?

Images from The Hemingway Museum

Oak Park Conservatory

It's always nice to find an interesting spot to visit that's right where you live. It's even nicer when that spot is free. We visited the Oak Park Conservatory this weekend and it was really amazing to see greenhouse spaces divided into different environments for different greenery. Each room even had its own temperature, so within a few steps you could go from a humid environment to a cool, breathable space. And there was a coi pond.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Black & White

I don't know what it is about simplicity that people respond so well to. When it comes to my artwork, some of the most positive responses I have received has been to work that was minimal in composition. Years ago I painted a black and white diptych that I kept going back into because it just seemed too simplistic. It was actually inspired by imagery from Sin City, the movie, but more so the artwork of Frank Miller. I wanted to explore the invasion of twisted white forms into a black background, then reverse the process. I've always found the diptych interesting, but not work I expected to continue to garner praise.


Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Temporality of Culture

We just read Jonathan Lear's Radical Hope for my Social Theory class. It deals with the temporary nature of culture and how everything that we've known and relied on to guide our lives can suddenly change. Lear examines how the Crow Nation was forever impacted by the loss of the buffalo, followed by a forced confinement to an Indian reservation. Surprisingly, Lear's work deals with the perseverance of the Crow people and how they were able to prepare themselves for an unknowable future. By recognizing that their way of life was coming to an end, they were able to protect aspects of their culture that could be passed down to later generations.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Riding Express

I had lived in the southwest almost my entire life. In places like Texas & Arizona, you avoid public transportation at all costs as there is often a stigma attached to people who make use of this otherwise affordable service. You need a car to get around.

That being said, riding the L every week provides me with a wealth of entertainment. I've already discussed a social element of the L in an earlier blog, now I wanted to mention the act of transportation itself.

Coming back from the city on Friday, I got the chance to ride express. I ride the Green Line, which does not offer this service on a regular basis, so it was a thrillingly childlike experience. First of all, you travel fast during an express run. The swerves are somewhat jolting, so you can really feel the movement of the train. Secondly, without as many stops, you just get their faster. A 25 minute ride becomes maybe an 18 minute ride. Which may not seem like a whole lot, but it almost feels like they're going faster just for you. Because you're important and you need to get home and make those 7 minutes really count.  

Blackstone Bicycle Works

Check out this article about a bicycle repair shop in Chicago that offers bikes to kids on the south side. It's like an after school program where kids can learn how to build & repair bikes. After 20 hours of work, they select a bike for repair that they can keep. After 25 hours, they get to take the bike home with them.

Click link to view article

Monday, October 24, 2011

Inner-City Tin Man?

Can anyone explain this...

National Museum of Mexican Art

My family & I visited the National Museum of Mexican Art over the weekend. Located in a predominantly Hispanic neighborhood in Pilsen, it provided a great mix of art and culture. There was a lot of contemporary work by Mexican artists as well as the history of Mexican occupation within Chicago. And it was free!

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Divine Violence?

I'm reading Slavoj Zizek's Violence and one of the concepts I find the most disturbing is that of divine violence. It's a complex theory similar to divine intervention, but instead of the hand of God there to assist you, it is there to punish you. There is no deep meaning, there is no lesson. Divine justice is handed down, brutalizing one person or millions of people, and we are beyond powerless to stop it. What's more, through divine violence, we grow to accept the atrocity. Pretty up beat stuff, to be sure.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Global Occupy Protests

I hadn't heard much about the Occupy Spaces (Wall Street, Chicago) in the media, but I did come across this article. It discusses the Occupy Protests on a global level, leading off the article with details of destruction & violent imagery in Rome. Is this the only reason MSNBC is even bothering to cover this story, because of the riots?

Click to view the article

Monday, October 10, 2011

Breaking Bad Season Finale--Medically Accurate?

I've watched Breaking Bad since the very beginning and, quite frankly, I've seen a lot of disgusting things. Besides watching a moral human being erode into a calculating killer, there has been a significant amount of violence & bloodshed. Let's see, I've seen a decapitated head placed on a large, desert turtle (which was wired to explode), I've watched somebody bleed out after being stabbed with a box cutter, and, of course, the people melting. Chemical compounds have been used--a few times--to liquify people. 

There is generally a reality base to Breaking Bad's gruesomeness, but last night's season finale was rather puzzling. Simply put, the leader of a drug cartel has half of his face blown off in an explosion. Literally half of it is gone, as we can see his skull. (It's gross, I know.) Following the explosion, he takes a few steps, straightens his tie, & collapses. I'm no medical expert, but is this in any way possible? I realize it's fiction and they were obviously going for shock value, but can your body operate of its own volition, perform a simple physical act, without requiring use of the brain? Can your body exercise this muscle memory moments before you expire? It's disturbing, but it has made for some interesting discussion.   

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Pop Culture in Higher Education

There is an oddly indefinable freedom in a graduate program that promotes the creative environment. Whether you are researching a project, putting together a presentation, or writing a paper, you have the ability--or maybe even the responsibility--to include a part of yourself in your work.

I just wrote a paper for my Social Theory class where I had to read the Jay-Z memoir, Decoded, and discuss how it relates to our topic of the ghetto. In the paper, I pulled from two very different films to reinforce my point: On the Waterfront & Hustle & Flow. The first is a 1954 classic about a longshoreman who goes against the mob, the other a movie from 2005 about a pimp who dreams of being a rapper. I appreciate both films, but for very different reasons. The character in each has become disenchanted by their surroundings, but cannot fully understand why. They just know, deep down, that something is wrong and change needs to happen. This is were I applied Jay-Z's accounts of his life as a drug dealer, focusing on his interpretations of the mind of a hustler and the environment he inhabits.

It felt odd to put these ideas together. (Heck, it felt odd just to write out the above paragraph.) But it was a unique experience. Like attending classes at the Art Institute--being ensconced in the art & culture of Chicago--it presents a new set of challenges that require a new way of thinking.    

Monday, October 3, 2011

Revolution of Youth

At what point in our own development, as we navigate the terrain of higher education, do we abandon the notion of revolution, counter-culture, and social activism? When you're in your 20s, everything is important--every struggle, every fight for social justice. You believe in the power of activism. When you're in your 30s--like I am now--you can easily lose that fighting spirit. Your life is gradually overtaken by family & responsibility. You see the same injustice and are affected by it in the same way, but you're preoccupied by paying off debt, finding the best school district, or installing air conditioning.

I just finished reading Frantz Fanon's The Wretched of the Earth for my Social Theory class and I was transported back to my 20s. Fanon's anti-colonial, revolutionary mindset would have lured me in back then; I probably would have read it on my own time. Communism, Che Guevara, Rage Against the Machine--I read it, listened to it, responded to it. Now I just want my son to keep his bathroom clean. Historical struggles like that of the people of Algeria are present, but ultimately peripheral. Is there a place in this world for social activism and a clean bathroom?

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Open Streets Chicago

Over the weekend, my family and I went into downtown to check out Open Streets Chicago. It was incredible to walk right down the middle of State Street, not worrying about oncoming traffic, and see groups of people perform these random activities. There were activists, musicians, and athletes placed side-by-side with oddities like a giant sandbox and a plot of grass with lawn chairs. You could walk a few blocks and see just about every facet of society.

A trio of classical musicians.
 A sack race for children (and adults).
 A miniature skate park.
A city roller derby group.      

Monday, September 26, 2011

Rauschenberg Erases de Kooning

Robert Rauschenberg talks about his Erased de Kooning piece.

Stop! Keep it to Yourself!

It seems like the more often you ride public transportation, the more often you hear about people's personal lives. And not just what stop they're getting off at and why, but who in their family they hate, what they said to their boss after they were fired, or which sexual positions they prefer.

I consider myself to be a private person, so when I hear these detailed, sometimes graphic conversations, I try to turn a deaf ear. But it's difficult when either two people are talking at high volume or if one person is yelling into their cellphone.

I guess we all have our own methods of tuning it out; you pretend like the Facebook page you're looking at on your smart phone is incredibly interesting or the graffiti on one of the outside buildings has a deeper meaning. You don't want to hear it, but you abide by it. People are sharing these truly intimate details, but are they doing it for their benefit or our own? That is to say, do they WANT us to listen?

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Technology in Art Museum Setting

I just came across this article about using a 3-D technology to enrich the art viewing experience. Artists and researchers at Indiana University worked with the Indianapolis Museum of Art to develop this project.

Click to view the article

Monday, September 12, 2011

Staged Photography

The Art Institute has an exhibition displaying the photographic work of Ralph Eugene Meatyard. The collection is being called "Dolls and Masks" and it mainly depicts people in grotesque masks and arranged doll parts. While I can appreciate the formal elements of the collection (balance, composition, deep contrasts in value, etc.) I have always questioned the content of deliberate or staged photography.

At its best, photography focuses on truth--the act of capturing a moment in time. A painting can also depict this moment, but it lacks the immediacy of a photograph. Some of the most powerful photographs I have seen capture fleeting moments, as if the photographer possessed the right amount of talent and luck to get the image on film.

When I see photographs, for example, of children wearing masks with distorted faces in abandoned houses, it produces a definite response. It's strange and unsettling in its content, yet it is content that was prearranged. Like a film, I can recognize the expressiveness and thought that went into its creation, but it remains a single, two-dimensional image. So, the question I always ask myself when I see staged photography is: would it be more poignant or powerful as a painting?        

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Shamless Self-Promotion

In light of the attention paid to the SAIC website, I was hoping to get some feedback on my own website. I have maintained an online studio gallery for myself for several years now. When I purchased my first Apple computer, it seemed logical to retool my website through iWeb. It has gone through a few transformations, including the addition of a video page and a graphic design page.

The trend for websites seems to be clean formats with mostly white backgrounds. I wanted to add some personality to my website, so it may appear a bit colorful by comparison. If you have the opportunity, explore the website and let me know what you think:

Thursday, September 8, 2011

"Learnin' about Cuba; havin' some food."

I ate in class today--not just a snack, but a small meal. It was a freedom I had yet to experience, even when I was an undergrad. Although graduate classes tend to illicit a more relaxed learning environment, they still have the basic classroom elements: students, teachers, learning. These are elements that take me back to elementary school, where the concept of eating and learning is close to obscene.

However, today in my "Doing Democracy" education class we watched a full movie--also unheard of in public school--where I pulled out a sandwich and some chips and enjoyed the show. Granted, it was a 90 minute documentary about violent student protestors of the 1960s, but as I ate my sandwich and an image of Fidel Castro flashed across the screen, I couldn't help but think about Fast Times at Ridgemont High. Sean Penn's character has a pizza delivered to his history class, where he's "learnin' about Cuba; havin' some food."

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Midwest by Way of Southwest

It’s been really interesting this past month living in an environment with so much history when you come from an area of the country where it’s like things are just getting started. In the southwest—Phoenix in particular—everything is so spread out, expanding and constantly developing. The houses, apartments, and freeways all have a new quality to them you don’t usually find in the Midwest.

In Chicago, there are houses and apartments a century old, places with real historical significance that anybody with the right money can live in. Many of these dwellings are not even considered public landmarks; they’re just potential real estate. In Phoenix, there are always new properties to choose from. Living in a home with history suggests the hassle of upkeep and remodeling. Homes a century old are potential tourist attractions.

On a smaller scale, visiting Chicago by way of Phoenix is almost like visiting ancient Greece or Rome, except you can rent space in one of the ruins.

Thursday, September 1, 2011


One of greatest gifts of the internet is the gift of information. Whether you want to know the history of an ancient tribe, how to install an air conditioner, or the name of an actor from that movie you saw when you were twelve, the web has the answers.

For me, IMDB eliminates hours of searching my mental database for some useless bit of movie trivia. If  I want to see a list of movies by a specific actor or director or get dialogue from some 80s sitcom, IMDB gives me the gift of instant information. It still amazes me that people are responsible for researching information that is so precise and so unnecessary at the same time.